By Judi Munday
In recent years, I have observed a marked increase in the number of students who struggle with language-based learning deficits. They struggle with reading comprehension, written and oral expression, memory, and listening comprehension. These children are students who knew their lesson one day, yet seem clueless when asked about that same lesson the next day! The child appears to understand what he hears, yet his brain is working very hard to overcome neurologically based deficits. These weaknesses are “invisible” in many cases, so the parent and child experience a great deal of frustration and stress. These deficits may impair his ability in any or all of the following critical tasks: acquiring knowledge, organizing and storing knowledge, and remembering knowledge when asked to do so.
Respond and Adapt
Once you recognize the characteristics of a language-based learning disability, it becomes easier to respond and adapt your teaching. By appropriately responding, you ensure that your teaching is more likely to meet your individual child’s needs.
Use Pauses in Your Instructions
It is important to provide very direct, clear, and explicit instruction. Assuming he does not have a hearing loss, if your child regularly does not understand you or forgets what you said, speak in shorter sentences. Leave a two-to-three second pause between your sentences: count “one-one thousand, two-one thousand,” etc. to allow the child’s brain time to process what he’s heard. I have noticed that when a child is confused, parents have a tendency to re-explain and keep talking! For a child with a language-based learning disability, this is actually counter-productive because your child’s brain may be overloaded trying to process the information. Using more words does not mean you are a better teacher!
Use Visual Activities
In every way possible, support oral instruction with more visual and/or hands-on activities. Become aware that it helps to transform abstract concepts into a visual and/or concrete content and teaching approach. You can use timelines or diagrams of the storyline (such as graphs). Create cartoons that show the attributes of the characters, or make a story web for works of fiction.
Limit Your Instruction
Slow down the pace of instruction. It may require more than one school year to complete a given text or subject, and that’s okay! The blessing of homeschooling is the freedom for each child to learn according to individual strengths and weaknesses. Do not expect your child to master all the new vocabulary in a given lesson. Select a limited number of key ideas or vocabulary terms.
Link new vocabulary to familiar concepts or objects, and teach your child to define words in his own words. Restate definitions using as few words as possible. Flash cards that illustrate terms are helpful for most students, but they are especially important for children on the spectrum and children with limited vocabulary, so add illustrations to vocabulary definitions. There are numerous free, low-cost software programs that help you to generate flash cards using clip art (such as Microsoft’s website for teachers). If your child finds it is too difficult to generate or say a definition, allow the child to point to the definition from a list of choices. Ask him to point to a picture or photograph that illustrates the concept.
Be Careful When Asking Your Child to Repeat
You may try asking your child to repeat what you said (to help him retain the lesson), but realize this approach could cause a lot of frustration for you and your child―so use this tactic wisely! (Think of how you would feel if your spouse or friend asked you to repeat what he or she just said―and she did it all the time!) Children with language-based learning disabilities need more repetition, so restate what you said―but with grace and patience.
No child chooses to fail, so if he faces challenges, ask the Lord for help to discern where his problem is rooted.
Judi Munday has M.Ed. degrees in special education and in learning disabilities. Her business, HIS Place for Help in School, helps students with special needs and their parents. Come and hear Judi speak at the convention!